For years, friends have been raving about the misadventures of Kvothe and even more so about the poetry of Patrick Rothfuss. Years back, I found The Name of the Wind in the library. I read the first few paragraphs, and I was blown away by the weight of each word, the perfection of and care taken with each sentence and paragraph break, and the images that were painted. I said, “I don’t have time for this.” I wanted to give it the time that I thought I would need to enjoy it. I’m so sad that it took me years to decide to have time for it.
The prologue is awesome, and when paired with the epilogue, it left me a blabbering mess of “Did he just— He did!” I don’t even really know how to begin to describe to you the wonder of what Rothfuss did with those four pages. I’ve never seen a wizards’ knot, but I think now that I might have read one.
Now, don’t, like me, be daunted by the prologue. This book reads surprisingly fast. Granted, I did decide to read it when I knew that I would have more than my usual free time, but I don’t think that it would have been bogged down by the usual pace of life, and I think I’d have been stealing moments to read just a little more. Despite criticism from friends who were pushed into saying something by the gabbling Facebook status that I posted after finishing the book and despite that I recognize their criticism as valid, I’m still hankering for the second in the series and was not sated but rather my appetite increased by the short story, “The Lightning Tree,” recently released in Rogues.
Kvothe is fairly likeable if a little pompous and self-aggrandizing (though in fairness he is the storyteller and can be expected to shed himself in the best light just as any of us would) but Rothfuss is the real star of The Name of the Wind. I enjoyed Kvothe’s adventures, but I enjoyed Rothfuss’ storytelling and poetry so much more. Rothfuss is a writer’s writer often alluding to the process and perils of writing by having his protagonist engage in storytelling, and there is much within the novel that rang like a hammer against a nail of truth and sympathy driven into myself. Another of my favorite sections is the four pages that Kvothe and Rothfuss take trying to decide how to describe one character because those pages allude so fiercely to the difficulty of describing characters in fiction (417-420).
The Name of the Wind and presumably the whole of The Kingkiller Chronicles are written with a frame story, and the two stories weave together to drive the reader on into the series. Kote the barman is confronted in the present-day with the resurfacing of his past, from which he has run and hid, but which has found him at last. He battles a darkness that manifests as overgrown spiders, tries to brush aside his knowledge of how to destroy them as garnered secondhand from visitors to his lonely tavern, but more privately lets slip something about a war that is his fault, of which I guess that these creatures are a symptom. His student, Bast, is worried about his Reshi and is using the famed storyteller, Chronicler, to try and get Kvothe to remember himself and become what he was. Chronicler is looking for a story, and the truth. So Kvothe is wheedled into telling his story, and he takes us back to his childhood. The Name of the Wind, the first of the three days that Kvothe believes that his story will take to be told, spans from Kvothe’s happy youth, to his tragic tween and teen years, to his first few terms at university, where he distinguishes himself but not perhaps in the ways that he had hoped, and during which time he meets an alluring girl and worries over whether or not he has her heart. This first book of the trilogy has many elements of the bildungsroman, and the adult Kote, looking back, talks about his story as if it is indeed the education and becoming of himself: “If you are eager to find the reason I became the Kvothe they tell stories about, you could look there, I suppose” (186).
Kvothe’s time at the university can be dissected too in terms of the school story, where those familiar with the genre (as many of us unwittingly are thanks to J. K. Rowling) will recognize many familiar patterns: the rivalry with the more powerful peer, difficulties in learning, the grudges held by professors, the unexpected aid from those same or other professors, a squad of friends on whom one can rely when difficulties arise in the classroom and outside of it…. I’ve said before that one of the perils of the school story is the large cast that it calls for. Rothfuss handles the cast quite well. He does not unnecessarily dive into everyone’s backstories, and their characters do seem to enter—as they should—onto the stage only when Kvothe needs them to do, but they seem too to have lives and personalities outside of Kvothe, and that is imperative to good characterization and an element too frequently overlooked when one is working with a larger cast.
In the university, Rothfuss’ fantasy is given scientific examination. Dragons are large fire-breathing lizards but are considered natural. Magic is given names like sympathy, which applies scientific principles like the inability of energy to be created or destroyed to the manipulation of objects. Naming is another form of magic that has more in common with Ursula K. LeGuin’s and Diane Duane’s models. I have always been a fan of the blending of magic and science, and so Rothfuss’ models tug at my heart. It’s clear that, as with the language and craft he uses in storytelling, Rothfuss has given a lot of thought to magic and world-building. I’m interested to see if the scientific nature of magic persists throughout the series. I don’t know how to apply science to some of the things that the elder Kvothe has clearly encountered: fey, spider demons, the angelic Amyr, and wraithlike Chandrain. Kvothe reminds me in that way of myself: He’s learned the science but he won’t give up the magic despite people’s judgements of his “childlike” fascination with the truth of the world that they can’t see.
If you enjoy words, if you enjoy writing, I must recommend this book as a meaty helping of prose.
Rothfuss, Patrick. The Kingkiller Chronicles, Day One: The Name of the Wind. New York: DAW-Penguin, 2008. First published 2007.
This review is not endorsed by Patrick Rothfuss, DAW Books, or Penguin Group, Inc. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.